Profile: Who is Sir Ian McKellen?

With two Oscar nominations for his work on screen and the recipient of every major theatrical award in the UK and US, Sir Ian McKellen is widely considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time.

The 85-year-old has gripped audiences both on screen and on stage, receiving international acclaim and becoming a household name across the globe.

His largest mark on the big screen may be as Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

Sir Ian McKellen attends a Meet The Actor event at the Apple Store, Regent Street, London in 2015
Sir Ian McKellen in 2015 (Ian West/PA)

But he also found mainstream success with his performances as Magneto in the X-Men series and as the title character in the film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III.

On the stage, Sir Ian has been nominated for 12 Olivier Awards and won six for his roles in Pillars Of The Community, The Alchemist, Bent, Wild Honey, Richard III and his one-man show Ian McKellen On Stage.

The actor was born in Burnley, Lancashire, in 1939 and, alongside his sister Jean, was raised by his mother Margery and father Denis.

Sir Ian has often credited his parents for encouraging his interest in becoming a performer, previously claiming in a 2017 interview with the Irish Examiner: “Apparently she said, ‘If Ian decides to be an actor, it’s a good job, because it brings pleasure to people’.”

His mother died when he was just 12 and he would lose his father at the age of 22.

Sir Ian acted at all the schools he attended.

When at Bolton School he was able to take on his first Shakespeare performance at Hopefield Miniature Theatre when, as a 13-year-old Malvolio, he performed the letter scene from Twelfth Night.

He then won a scholarship to read English at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge and was soon appearing in regular productions, including appearing alongside now famous alumni such as Derek Jacobi, David Frost and Margaret Drabble.

By the time Sir Ian graduated in 1961 he had decided to become an actor, and landed his first job in a production of A Man For All Seasons at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry.

Since then, he has gone on to become a household name for his acclaimed performances in everything from Shakespearean tragedies to Hollywood blockbusters.

Outside of acting, Sir Ian has been active in the gay rights movement.

Very few people knew of his homosexuality at a young age, including his parents.

In 1988, he publicly came out on a BBC Radio 4 programme while discussing Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 legislation, which made the promotion of homosexuality as a family relationship by local authorities an offence.

He said of the law: “I think it’s offensive to anyone who is, like myself, homosexual, apart from the whole business of what can or cannot be taught to children.”

Section 28 was eventually fully repealed in 2003.

Sir Ian has spoken about his experiences on coming out on several occasions.

Back in July 2000, he wrote in The Independent: “The only good thing I can think to say about Section 28 is that it finally encouraged me to come out. A bit late in the day, but it remains the best thing I ever did.”

Then in 2015, he said that coming out actually made him a better performer, saying: “What happened immediately, according to friends, is I became not just a happier person, but a better actor.”

Sir Ian, who now lives in Limehouse, is currently performing in Player Kings, a production of Henry IV, Parts One and Two, at the Noel Coward Theatre in London.